CWCO 2009 Thursday: “If You Send an Editor a Query Letter”

cwco_topic3Today is one of my favorite days of CWCO 2009: Real, live editors from Catholic publishing houses all over the country are going to be chatting with aspiring (and, in some cases, previously published) writers. Some writers pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars (I kid you not) for this kind of networking opportunity … and here at CWCO they get it for FREE!!!  (Of course, if an actual CONTRACT results from these discussions, you might want to make a donation of $20 or more to the CWCO coffers and get your a nifty conference e-book!)

In honor of today, I thought I’d dig out this little chestnut to entertain the troops while their waiting nervously for their turn.

 

Have you ever wondered what happens to the hundreds of query letters and proposals you have generated over the course of your writing career? Does some editorial assistant use it to line the bottom of her ferret cage? Do they cast shovels full of unsoliciteds onto the fire at the annual editorial weenie roast?

 

If you’ve ever wondered about this–or are just a fan of the full-circle themes of Laura Numeroff–keep reading. This piece, based loosely on the experiences of some editors I know (many of whom have exceptional assistants), offers a glimpse into the real world of editors everywhere. Enjoy.

If You Send an Editor a Query Letter…
(With thanks to Laura Numeroff.)
(c) 2004 by Heidi Hess Saxton

If you send an editor a query letter, she’ll want an SASE to go with it.

When she sees the SASE, it might remind her that she’s almost out of stamps. She is also low on Diet Coke and Excedrin Migraine. So Ms. Editor loads up her 1993 Toyota Tercel with three large bags of cans–last week’s soda supply–to take to the Piggly Wiggly on her lunch break.

On her way to lunch, Ms. Editor will pass the Fed Ex man, who is carrying a stack of boxes for her: three manuscripts (two of them late) and 260 proposals her cute-but-clueless new assistant requested while Ms. E. was out of the office last week. This reminds her to compose an ad to find Fabio’s successor.

As she faxes ad copy, Ms. E’s eagle-sharp editorial eyes will fall on her day planner: Meeting today at 3:00 with the publisher to discuss next year’s fall lineup. Ms. E. digs production quotes and sales projections for her top six proposals (including your query, which she skimmed with enthusiasm as she guzzled her lunch) out of the mountain of paper in her inbox, getting a paper cut in the process.

The blood reminds her of the last editorial planning meeting, when some hapless editor (never mind who) suggested going to contract again with a talented but unknown writer, whose last book sold so poorly that the warehouse was using remainders as door stops. Ms. E. shudders and combs her pile of proposals for evidence of marketability, leaving frantic messages for you to e-mail her sales figures for your previous books and a copy of your speaking schedule for the following year. While Ms. E. is on the phone, one stressed-out graphics designer and three unhappy authors leave their own frantic messages, on a line to which no one but her mother is supposed to have the number.

Thoughts of her mother will remind Ms. Editor of a manuscript her mother’s hairdresser’s nephew sent for review “when she has a free moment.” Ms. E’s mother has been gently chiding her daughter about it for the past month. It doesn’t seem to matter that the house Ms. E. works for doesn’t publish science fiction, or that the young man couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag. Ms. E. must convince her boss to publish it, or the hairdresser will make Mom look like she’s backed into a weed-wacker for her fiftieth high school reunion. Ms. E. reaches for the Excedrin next to her office clock, and sees it is now 3:05.

Late for the meeting, Ms. E. carries your e-mail between her teeth, proposals in one hand and her Diet Coke in the other, and sprints for the conference room. Her ideas are met with unanimous enthusiasm. Giddy, Ms. E. proposes to give you a six-figure advance and a three-book deal. Someone asks Ms. E. if she’s been sniffing glue.

The glue remark reminds her of the stamp on your SASE, which you so obligingly supplied. Ms. E. uses it to give you good news and bad news: They want to publish your book. But she doesn’t work there anymore. If you want the contract, Ms. E. adds, please send a full proposal and three sample chapters to her colleague, who was smart enough to keep her mouth shut during the previous editorial meeting.

A little surprised, you go ahead and submit the requested material, putting the new editor’s name on the envelope. Four weeks later, you get a form letter from the new-and-even-more-clueless editorial assistant. “Sorry, but we don’t accept unsolicited proposals. Next time you send a SASE… Be sure to send a query letter with it.”

Heidi Hess Saxton is the editorial director of ChristianWord.com, a freelance writing and editing business. She has ten years experience as an in-house editor, most recently as senior editor of a medium-sized CBA publishing house. For permission to reprint, contact Heidi at hsaxton@christianword.com.

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